In the old days, serious injuries were common when grown men faced each other on Main Street in Ouray, armed with fire hoses spewing water at full force.
The tradition grew in the old mining days of Ouray in the late 1800s and is a highlight of the Ouray 4th of July celebration at 2 p.m. at the corner of Sixth and Main streets.
Today’s water warriors look more like road warriors, with face shielded helmets, and protective gear all over their bodies.
But the water fights weren’t like that when he was a kid, said Ouray resident and mining family descendant Dick Zanett, 69.
“I think it was kind of more brutal. They didn’t wear any protective gear, just women’s bathing caps, and they had a lot of rocks coming through the hose,” he said.
There were many injuries back then, Zanett said, including hypothermia, “a lot of bruising” and damage to the eyes.
“I don’t know of anybody that lost an eye, but some got their eyes knocked loose,” he said.
Back when he was a kid, the water fights were only among adult men, Zanett said, and were not timed, sometimes going on for 45 minutes or an hour.
A few years ago, categories were widened to include a women’s division, coed teams, and junior water fights in addition to the senior men’s division.
In the coed fights, brother-sister team Riley Arrington and Matt Maxwell will be up against Eva Duce and Kyle Schoenebaum, while the junior water fights will see action between the 2008 runners-up Ethan Fries and Zack Ficco versus Jake Link and Steve Duce.
A generation gap may come into play in the senior men and women’s competition. In the women’s competition, defending champs Rissa Robinson, 17,and Michal Fagrelius, 18, will be challenged by Pacie Merling Miller, 36, and Sara Campbell, 30.
The senior men’s competition, the last water fight of the day, will be between defending champions Chris Scott, 21, and Jude Martinez, 19, who will be fighting the team of John Brown, 30, and Alan Cook, 41.
Schedule of events for Ouray’s 4th of July celebration
Here’s the official list of activities for the 4th of July in Ouray, but a lot more will be happening with throngs of visitors during the weekend and live music at local clubs into the night.
8 p.m. — Firefighters Dance, Ouray Community Center
Noon-4 p.m. — Horse races at county fairgrounds in Ridgway, sponsored by the Ouray County Rodeo Association. More races at the same times on July 5.
6 a.m. — Ouray Mountain Rescue Pancake Breakfast, Ouray Community Center.
8 a.m. — Ourayce 10K Walk-Run, starts and ends at City Hall. Entry fee $5, t-shirts are $13. Registration at 7 a.m.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. — Make your own t-shirt for $12 and free face painting all day at the Painting Marmot, 612 Main Street.
10 a.m. — 4th of July parade down Main Street.
11 a.m. — Kids games at Fellin Park immediately after the parade.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. — Ouray County Museum reception with special activities, Mountain Man brownies and yummy lemonade for sale.
11 a.m. — Ouray Elks Lodge barbecue, 421 Main Street. Lodge open to the public all day.
11:30 – 2:30 — Zip line rides across the Uncompahgre Gorge by San Juan Mountain Guides for $10 per ride at upper bridge of Ouray Ice Park. (Kids under 18 must be with an adult.)
2 p.m. — Water fights at Sixth and Main streets.
3 p.m. — Showing of “The San Juan Odyssey” at the Main Street Theater.
Dusk — Jeep flare parade, followed by fireworks over the city.